Bigger is not always better. Witness the current incarnation of “The Weir,” revived by The Irish Rep at their smaller, temporary location on E. 15th Street, off Union Square while their home theater on West 22nd Street undergoes renovations.
I confess this is my fourth time seeing “The Weir”: once on Broadway, twice at The Irish Rep’s old home, and now at the DR2 Theatre.
This production is remarkable in every way, not least because of the intimacy provided by the DR2. I never want to see this play again in a space larger than this 99 seat one; it belongs in close quarters, where the country pub is just steps away and an audience member can almost smell the whisky of “a small one,” the ghost stories cause a chill down the spine, and the men’s fine faces (and one woman’s) register every detail of the stories they tell.
Conor McPherson said he didn’t understand all the fuss about “The Weir,” that it was just a bunch of people in a pub telling stories. But make no mistake: “The Weir” is a masterpiece of language, of relationships among men who have known each other all their lives, and the way each has been haunted.
Jack (Paul O’Brien) about 60, mechanic and auto body shop owner, arrives as the bartender Brendan (Tim Ruddy) in his 40’s, opens up. Jim (John Keating), also in his 40’s and another pub regular, turns up; he is a simple man who lives with his ailing mother and does the odd job, takes the odd bet. The talk of the pub is Finbar (Sean Gormley) also about 60, who has moved away from the country and is now a hotel owner, living in the town. He thinks highly of himself, does Finbar, and has taken to showing a newcomer, Valerie (Amanda Quaid) a woman in her 30’s, about the place. She has come from Dublin for reasons unknown and is renting the old Nealon place. With the exception of Finbar, all of the men are single. Yet Finbar is the one squiring her around town, and then right into the pub. Their pub. You can see how this might cause a bit of a problem. Rivalry. Jealousy. And a lot of talk.
And talk they do, in the manner of ghost stories. Finbar has one about the old Nealon place, not realizing he may have frightened Valerie. “It’s only an old cod,” he says, but Valerie seems to find comfort in the stories, and asks the men to go on. Jim tells a particularly chilling story to do with a graveyard and a pedophile; afterwards, the men say that it was a “terrible story.” And then
Valerie tells her own story, more immediate, wrenching, devastating. The men don’t know what to say, other than “Sorry.”
After Jim and Finbar have departed, Jack has his own story to tell, of a contemporary haunting, and an act of kindness. Brendan is the only one who has no story, and one feels he might be spared the fate of the other men, if he bothers to listen to them.
All of the performances are superb: it is as if you are listening to men who have known each other their whole lives. O’Brien’s lost love story will tear you to bits. Keating is all sweet sadness and his ghost story a thriller. Gormley’s Finbar, for all his swagger, has escaped the country but not being alone. Quaid’s loss devastates. And Ruddy keeps the peace and holds it all together.
I doubt you will see a finer play, or better ensemble, this season. Miss “The Weir” at your peril.